You may have seen a programme on TV recently all about ancient Greece. And when we think about the ancient Greeks, certain images come to mind. We may think about the great Temples they built. We think about the wonderful and still meaningful Greek dramas. We think about Greek mythology, and we think about Greek philosophy.
The ancient Greeks were very serious about philosophy, far more than we are today. When Saint Paul visited Greece, he found that many of the Greeks were firmly entrenched in the camps of several popular philosophers. There were those who followed Heraclitus and believed that the world was always in a constant state of change, and nothing ever stayed the same. There were those who followed Parmenides who claimed that the world was unchangeable. There were the followers of Plato who taught that the world was a combination of what our minds could make of it, and reality itself. And then there were the followers of Aristotle who said that the world is as it appears. Reality exists and we are capable of understanding it with our senses.
Saint Paul may have visited Greece without having any particular knowledge of the major Greek philosophers. And when the scholars of the day asked him what line of thinking he employed in his preaching of the Gospel he said: “My message and my preaching has none of the persuasive force of wise argumentation. Instead it has the convincing power of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Paul then reminds the Christians at Corinth, “As a result, your faith rests not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
I’m no scholar, but I accept that philosophy is good, important and even necessary, not so much for everyday living, but if you want to really understand the world and things that exist, a little philosophy is essential. Student priests must study philosophy for two years before moving on to theology. But that being said, the wisdom of philosophy is infinitely inferior to the power of God. This is Saint Paul’s message to the Corinthians. And, it is his message to us, because we are continually tempted to underestimate the value of our faith; we are tempted to rely on our own resources and the solutions we find to problems which crop up every day, using our own wits and intelligence, and even cunning.
I remember many years ago, having a discussion with one of those perpetual students in Rome, and who set himself up as the so-called ‘wise man’ in the house. He said to me one day: “You mean you haven’t read Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’?” The assumption being that if I had read and understood that book, then I would have understood him and would be alot wiser as a result. I’ve discovered, over the years, that a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing, especially to those who ‘think’ they are clever. And yet, Saint Paul teaches us quite clearly that we may have a grasp of all the knowledge there is in the world, and think we understand all the ingenious theories of the greatest of the philosophers, who may very well help develop our intellectual capacity and give us a clearer understanding of the world. But if all of this were the basis of our wisdom, then we would not be wise at all, we would instead be fools. To the Christian, wisdom is not based on any person other than the person of Jesus Christ. Our wisdom is not lost in some document past or present; our wisdom is alive and active, because the Power of God lives among us. Our wisdom is based, not on theory, but on faith.
Saint Paul tells us that the reality which we cannot see is more powerful and more certain than the reality that we do see. The wisdom that our minds cannot come to is infinitely superior to the wisdom that is based solely on our intellectual capacity.
Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for clever people in the world, or in the Church. We’d be pretty much up the creek without them. But some of our clever people get their priorities wrong and see the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom as something to benefit themselves, rather than benefit the people to whom they minister and serve.
When sickness, trauma, or tragedy hit us; when our loved ones become ill, get injured or die; it is Jesus Christ alone who brings order to the chaos of our lives. We are people who have been enlightened by Christ, and he is God’s answer to every question that has ever been or ever can be posed. We are called to reveal the true wisdom of Our Lord to the world. And this wisdom is not based on great intellects, but on the power of God.
The world needs this wisdom now, more than ever before.